Remembering the Polo Grounds

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There’s a great story by Richard Sandomir of the New York Times today, looking back at the history of the Polo Grounds.  Like many of the people quoted in is story, I was always struck by pictures of those wacko dimensions:

What stands out to fans and historians nearly 47 years since its demolition are its outfield dimensions, some of which changed with regularity. It was short down the lines (no more than 280 feet to left and 259 to right, and still shorter to the second decks); distant in the alleys (as much as 449 to one bullpen and 455 to the other); and as long as 505 to center field.

“That made it a strange ballpark,” said Jerry Liebowitz, a fan who began attending games there in 1943. “Someone like Johnny Mize hits it 450 to center field and it’s nothing but an out, but guys who couldn’t hit a damn were hitting pop-fly home runs to left and right.”

I used to play an old version of High Heat Baseball on my PC. There was a home run derby function on it, and you could choose the ballpark.  I would pick the Polo Grounds every time and use Barry Bonds, doing my best to yank line drives down the line.  It was wonderful.

My video game war stories aside, the Polo Grounds’ dimensions are important to keep in mind whenever people talk about the game being “transformed” by what went down in the 1990s.  The game has always had weird stuff about it, not the least of which have been oddball ballparks, rendering historical comparisons more of an art than a science.

Evan Longoria: “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.